(Delivered March 11, 2014 before the Senate Committee;
Delivered March 18, 2014 before the House Committee)
I am organic farmer for the past 35 years. Organic regulations do not permit the use Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
I have been active in establishing organic legislation and regulations, advancing scientific organic research, and increasing awareness of organic methods and improving organic markets. I have worked through such organizations as the Organic Trade Association, the Organic Farming Research Foundation, the Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association, and Future Harvest-Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. Currently, I serve on the National Organic Standards Board, a federal advisory committee mandated to advise the Secretary on materials and practices for organic agricultural and food production. My comments are solely personal and represent no organization.
I own and operate Nick’s Organic Farm in Frederick County Maryland. We have 165 acres under certified organic cultivation. We are or have conducted on-farm research in conjunction with USDA’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, University of Maryland and the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
We raise grass fed Angus beef, pastured chickens and turkeys, and free range eggs, vegetables, forages, corn, soybeans, barley, rye, and hairy vetch. Additionally, for the last three decades we have also produced organic seed, including open pollinated corn and food grade soybeans.
I pose the question: Who Is Making Our Food and Farming Choices?
Many farmers in Maryland and across the country are using genetically modified organisms—also know as GMOs. Most of the corn and soybeans, growth hormones and vaccines sold by Monsanto, Elanco, Syngenta, Dow, Dupont, Bayer and BASF are produced with gene altering biotechnology.
Bio-technology creates life forms that would never occur in nature because genes from one species are being transferred into a totally different species. In addition, these new life forms are patented so farmers cannot legally save and reproduce them.
In the mid-1990’s the promise from the bio-tech companies was that these novel products would help cows produce more milk, control or eliminate weeds, repel insects and diseases, and create heat and drought tolerance.
Supposedly, farmers would make more money, our yields would go up, our pesticide use would go down, and we would be on our way to ending world hunger.
So how do these promises stack up after 20 years?
Most farmers I know are not feeling any richer. On the other hand, the bio-tech companies are doing so well that they bought up most of the small regional seed companies.[i] Genetically engineered seeds are more expensive, and now it is hard to even find locally adapted non-GMO seeds. Interestingly, some mid-West farmers are returning to older corn varieties[ii] because they feel they are losing yield and profits with the bio-tech seeds.
Dairy farmers found cows treated with rBST hormone got more udder infections. Most dairies have abandoned rBST, and consumers welcomed that change. We ignored the predictions from some university weed scientists, and our fields are now plagued with about two dozen superweeds that can't be killed by RoundUp.[iii] Nature’s weeds began to out smart bio-tech in a mere half a dozen years.
Now, the bio-tech companies are trying to license new seed that resists stronger herbicides such as 2,4D.
Pesticide use has not gone down.[iii] And insects? They are attacking the Bt crops that are supposed to repel them. Drought and heat resistance, well they are still working on that one. And, world hunger? Don’t ask.
If bio-tech were a “silver bullet,” we would know it by now. Instead, my customers and consumers across the nation are demanding GMO labeling laws. They want to know what they are eating. They want a choice. Just as farmers want a choice to buy non-GMO seeds and vaccines.
Our rights as farmers and consumers to know and choose is in danger of being lost. Federal Judge Jeffrey White warned in a recent case involving Round Up Ready sugar beets, genetic engineering could mean the "potential elimination of farmer's choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer's choice to eat non-genetically engineered food.”
Who is making the choice of how we farm or what we eat? I want the right to choose, and I support bills HB1191/SB0778 that would require GMO labeling for produce and most packaged food.
Once consumers know what they’re eating, their choices will expand and so will farmers’ chioices.
[ii] Royte, Elizabeth 2013. The Post-GMO Economy: One mainstream farmer is returning to conventional seed — and he’s not alone. Modern Farmer. http://modernfarmer.com/2013/12/post-gmo-economy/
[iii] Benbrook, Charles 2012.Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S.–the first sixteen years. Environmental Sciences Europe, 24:24. http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24
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